At Home, BluRay/DVD Reviews

BLOOD ALLEY (WB Archive Collection)

By • Aug 2nd, 2017 •

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BluRay review by Roy Frumkes

(To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection (

John Wayne reigned as one of the top ten box office stars for 25 years, with only one break in the run (1958, when THE CONQUERER was released). He remained high on the charts in 1955, the year this film and another current BluRay archive release, THE SEA CHASE, came out. He stayed afloat for these two on sheer star power, because both of them are weak entrees in his legacy, this being the troublesome of the two.

IMDB trivia reports that Robert Mitchum was signed to play the lead, but he was impaired by alcoholic beverages to the point where director William Wellman insisted he be removed from the production. Supposedly Humphrey Bogart was then approached but asked for too much dough, and the banks were threatening to pull the plug, so Wayne, whose company Batjac was executive producing the film, stepped in to save it from going under.

I’m going to defy ‘history according to IMDB’ and maintain that this was a project intended for Bogart from its inception. It has the main character sitting around in a Chinese prison for two years talking to an imaginary woman, something Bogart could have pulled off. It included dragging a ferry through miles of swamp water, a la THE AFRICAN QUEEN. And it co-stars Lauren Bacall, who was married to Bogart.

Would it have worked better with Bogie in the lead? A bit. Wayne isn’t the kind of guy who could’ve endured two years of being locked in a small cell and still maintained a sense of laconic cool. And he sure didn’t pull it off here with any approximation of reality. Surface performance all the way. Bogart could have done it. Unshaven, grumpy, paranoid. You know the films I’m thinking of. And the reason the character is sprung from incarceration doesn’t feel the least bit right. Giggling prison guards, having been bribed, just let him go on his way.

But there is one aspect of the film that surely appealed to The Duke – its anti-Commie stance. You’ll find the same attitude at large in THE SEA CHASE.

Then there’s the print itself. The color spectrum is so squashed that in a scene where a body is dragged along the floor, the brown of the wood and the red of the blood are indistinguishable. All we can detect is a wet swath in the frame. The Warner Color images are muddied and unrewarding. Why? THE SEA CHASE, released the same year, also in Warner Color, looks full-bodied and relatively accurate, and the same cinematographer – William Clothier – shot both of them.

Director William Wellman, whose responsibility it was to make the narrative convincing, is unable to overcome any number of logic problems. The biggest may be the chemistry between Wayne and Bacall. She’s relentlessly tough, and touchy. He doesn’t like her and makes his antipathy convincing. We don’t care for her either. She’s unsympathetic, and the camera makes her look lovely but also rather masculine. This uncomfortable pas de deux between them goes on for over an hour and 45 minutes. And then suddenly, in the 11th hour, they fall into an embrace. From out of absolutely nowhere.

Think I’m leaving it at this? Not a chance. There’s still the supplementals. Two episodes from the ‘Warner Bros Presents’ TV show, hosted by Gig Young, feature Wayne discussing topics as diverse as how his career began, what it means to produce a film, and even a brief tutorial on the workings of a CinemaScope camera lens. Wayne comes across as relaxed, warmly contentious with his host, and innately bright and gifted. These extras actually tilted my feelings about the BluRay release to possibly recommending the disc as a keeper. If you like Wayne’s work, these two excerpts are really wonderful. Check them out for yourself. Curiously, although THE SEA CHASE is the better film, it has no supplements.

(To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection (

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